An Excerpt from Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

It's been months since I read Maria Barbal's Stone in a Landslide, but one scene has stayed with me. I wanted to share the scene on this blog because it captures the moment at which a woman learns that her husband is dead. The woman is Conxa, her husband is Jaume. The story is set during the Spanish Civil War, thus her grief is both personal and political, entangled with the larger forces of war and history. Through Conxa, we see the devastating effect that just one death has on a mother and her children.
Elvira clutches my neck and squeezes me so tightly that she almost chokes me. She’s crying, she cries without stopping… I can’t make her answer. What’s wrong? What’s wrong, girl? When I begin to tell her in a low voice, Look, all this will pass, maybe tomorrow… she hushes me. Mother, Mother, this morning they killed them all, near the bridge. A soldier I know from Montsent told me, just now… The news spreads through the room. The sound of wailing and crying is broken by names being called out and by periods of silence, by people falling to the ground and by the terror of the children, who don’t know what to do. I feel an axe-blow to the centre of my heart, but not one tear nor cry nor drop of blood comes out of me. I embrace my two daughters, an arm around each and I feel their tears like a stream that cannot wash my wound. Angeleta buries her head in my skirt and I caress her hair with my right hand. I coil a lock around my fingers and I think of Jaume’s face, always smiling. A young woman cries and pulls at her hair. She rolls around on the floor making choking noises. And now at last I notice how my cheeks are slowly getting wet. Instead of a cry escaping, I feel a very strong pain in my throat, as if I am being strangled… 
A soldier comes in, his eyes bulging out of his head. He shouts in Spanish, Silencio y a dormir. Shut up and go to sleep.
I’d always been afraid of death. Of death at home. Of having to speak in whispers and look at someone who’ll be carried off feet-first the next day to be buried in a hole. Of being kissed by everyone, of false condolences and sincere condolences and of seeing the reddened eyes of people I love. And now I didn’t even have a dead body. I was more afraid and more anguished not to have seen his body still, not to have seen his beautiful cheeks, once the colour of pomegranate flowers, pale and waxen. I was sad and I had no body with eyes to close, to sit up with or buy a coffin for or accompany to the grave with freshly-picked flowers and weep over gently. He’d gone as quickly as a rose cut from the bush and I’d no last memory of him except a little spark as he looked at me during our strange goodbye. I knew he was dead and I would never again have him at my side, because war is an evil that drags itself over the earth and leaves it sown with vipers and fire and knives with points upright. And I was barefoot with my children, and I had nothing apart from still being alive. I didn’t even have a mourning dress because his death wasn’t like others, it was a murder that had to be forgotten immediately. His name was to be entombed behind eyelids and mouths with thick cement. I knew he was one of the ones they’d killed because they were taking me in the lorry of sorrow to Aragón. Because they had to take us wretches away from the only thing left to us: our misery, with our scrap of sky and our vale of tears.
Translated by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell
Click here to purchase Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal